Virginia orchid growers dig into a thriving market

Move over poinsettias, because orchids are now the top-selling potted flower in the U.S. That shift opens the door for Virginia nurseries and greenhouses to branch out in the $288 million orchid industry.

In Virginia, the greenhouse/nursery industry is ranked fifth among the state’s agricultural commodities, with nearly $300 million in cash receipts annually.

Once rare and costly, orchids have become a mass-market commodity sold in garden centers and big-box and grocery stores. Phalaenopsis is the most common potted orchid.

Ben Van Wingerden, owner of Color Orchids in Culpeper County, sees a lot of potential in cultivating different varieties of phalaenopsis and has been building a brand around that focus since 2011.

“Orchids are a pretty dynamic product,” remarked Van Wingerden. “The grower is able to control the blooming time. If you want to sell them during the holidays, you can actually know when they will be blooming.”

Van Wingerden sells to high-end grocery retailers such as Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s and Wegmans and finds his location to be an asset.

“Overall, demand in orchids has grown, and the quality we produce is superior. That has driven us as a company,” he said.

The majority of Color Orchids’ business is in the first six months of the year and represents 60 percent to 70 percent of the company’s revenue. Van Wingerden said Mother’s Day brings the most demand for orchids, followed by Valentine’s Day and Easter.

While Van Wingerden is driving a high-volume orchid business, Floradise Orchids in neighboring Orange County has built a following around personalized service to loyal customers and expert advice on its broad range of orchids produced in limited quantities.

Husband and wife duo Janet Cherchuck and Stephen Shifflett grow hundreds of specimen and heirloom orchids in the company’s 3,000-square-foot greenhouse. Their passion for the flowering gems has fueled nearly 40 years in the orchid business.

“We were lucky to inherit a very prominent collection from a big orchid collector that formed the basis of our stock,” Cherchuck said. “We’ve had some plants in our collection for 35 to 40 years and sell divisions of that private stock.”

One plant in Floradise’s collection, a lovely lady slipper, dates to 1869. Offshoots of that beauty have been blooming for more than 150 years.

Floradise’s service of creating custom arrangements in unique containers is also flourishing.
“More and more of our business is contract delivery. We provide orchid arrangements to restaurants, businesses and private homes,” Cherchuck said.

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